My husband had a penchant for the women from the ice skating clubs. Of all the things you could bet on—ponies, greyhounds, ball games—my husband had to bet on ice skating.
Betting on ice-skating is a cutthroat operation, something I didn’t know until I found the skate blade embedded in our front door. By then, Darren was in deep.
He’d been coming home with a runny nose for weeks, his nose bright red from the chill of the rink. In ice gambling, you deal with the Russian. You wear red earmuffs at the rink to signal your interest; he approaches in a bulky parka with a fur hood that obscures his face. A lot of cash-stuffed mittens change hands.
At first it was just about the money, but Darren came to love the beauty of it. The way the girls threw themselves into the air and hung there for impossible seconds. “Just like Christmas ornaments on invisible trees,” he told me, the night he came home with his pinky finger broken in two places. He’d bet on the wrong girl dressed as a swan.
The blade in our door came with a warning: pay up or be iced. The possibility for puns did not escape the Russian’s limited English. Darren begged me to let him make one more bet; he had an inside lead on a girl they called the Ice Queen. Thighs like a rhino, he said.
I went with him to watch her skate that night. Graceful. Ferocious. Precise. But when the tips of her skates tangled mid-triple axel and she fell to the ice face first, I knew, watching her front teeth shatter and skate away across the ice on their own, that this was only the first blood of the night.
Front page image by Anita Carril.
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